When Connie Waldt was diagnosed with stage 3 metastatic breast cancer in April 2017, her first thoughts were of her six grandchildren — all between six and 10 years old — and how they might react to the sight of a bald "Mom Mom."
"I was scared they were going to be afraid of me," said Waldt, who works part-time as a bartender. Once Waldt lost the hair on her arms, her 8-year-old grandson confessed his own fears. "He said, 'I hope you don't lose your hair, because I don't want people to stare at you when you take me to Toys R Us,'" she recalled.
After many months of chemotherapy and a mastectomy, Waldt's tumor is gone, her prognosis has improved, and she still has a full head of hair, which she dies a defiant hue of pink.
The secret to Waldt's hair retention is the DigniCap, one of two devices recently cleared by the FDA to prevent hair loss in cancer patients through a process known as scalp cooling. Though the concept of scalp cooling has been around for decades — patients have been known to place bags of frozen peas on their heads during chemo — researchers and analysts say it is now poised to become the first mainstream solution to cancer-related alopecia, a problem that affects about 65 percent of cancer patients worldwide and represents a $710 million annual market in America alone.
"There are plenty of folks out there who have tried various techniques" to prevent hair loss in cancer patients, said Dr. Leonard Lichtenfeld, deputy chief medical officer with the American Cancer Society. "But none that I'm aware of has gotten anywhere near the traction that scalp cooling has." In November the Cleveland Clinic named scalp cooling one of its top 10 medical innovations for 2018.